Journalists and Activists Risking Imprisonment or Death For Investigating Environmental Issues
Photo Credit: Oleg Golovnev/ Shutterstock.com
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The call came early in the end. Around seven. We were on, our contact said. Tonight was the night. We'd been waiting most of the day after last night's plans had been aborted at the eleventh hour. The taxi picked us up, as arranged. The driver had been paid well above the going rate for this and wasn't interested in the details.
Privately, he must have thought it was unusual. Ferrying two foreigners and a fellow countryman deep into the black countryside, dropping them off in the middle of nowhere, returning at a predetermined time unless - as we'd warned him - he got a call stating otherwise.
As the car lights disappeared slowly into the night, someone approached. The security man. He spoke with our translator in haste before beckoning us through the unlocked gate. Across a piece of rough ground, towards one of several vast shed-like buildings set in a row. You could smell it was a farm well before it looked like one. The unmistakable waft of animal waste and straw and feed and chemicals.
Inside, with the door now closed behind us, hundreds of young pigs were visible under the dazzling artificial lights. We didn't have long. The security man had returned to his post outside, to smoke cigarettes and re-read the same paper he'd been reading all evening. He would be watching his clock closely.
The pigs were crammed in; moving, squealing, eating, shitting - these animals didn't have the luxury of outdoor exercise or daylight. This barn (more like a warehouse in fact) was home for now. Locals told us the farm contained 13,000 pigs, and was an intensive piglet "nursery", where young animals were brought from breeding establishments elsewhere to fatten up before being dispatched to the slaughterhouse and people's dinner plates.
We flicked the cameras on - video and stills, as is normal for assignments like this - and recorded what we saw. There were healthy animals, but plenty were lame and injured. One pig had an abnormal growth the size of a grapefruit. Some pigs looked emaciated, others appeared sick, some looked frail. There were dead pigs left abandoned on the ground, live animals rustling around the carcasses.
On the wall, charts recorded the number of animals that had died on specific days, and summarised medical treatment records - the names of antibiotics and other chemicals administered to specific pigs, along with details of the dose.
Time to go, the security man had summoned us. Out through the door, across the rough ground, the taxi was waiting. Handshakes with the security guard - and an acknowledgement of what he'd enabled. It was tricky and risky, sure, he responded, but what did he care, he was leaving in a matter of days. Good luck with the footage, hope it's useful when it's shown god knows where.
As well as the visual evidence of animal welfare conditions, and proof of the drugs in use (difficult to prove usually), we'd collected testimonies from an ex-employee who had spilled the beans on procedures and processes, and from local people, many of who were complaining about the pollution and other environmental impacts of having a foreign-owned factory farm arrive on your doorstep unannounced.
The locals had taken us to a giant open-air waste lagoon linked to another farm run by the same company. We'd filmed dead pigs floating in the cesspit, along with intravenous needles, plastic gloves and other filth.
It was a relief to leave the farm, the region - and indeed the country. On this occasion we were lucky - we got out safely and the pictures and other evidence we'd obtained received much coverage.